By Yemi Adebowale; 07013940521 yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.
T he last six years have been traumatic for the good people of Imo State. No governor has inflicted this much pain on these people as being done by incumbent Governor Rochas Okorocha. The actions and inactions of this man often leave many disheartened. The latest from calamity Okorocha was the ruthless demolition of the famed Eke-ukwu Owerri Market, in spite of a subsisting court order. Justice S.I. Okpara had restrained his government from demolishing the market, pending the determination of a suit filed by the stall owners, but Okorocha ignored the court’s order. Hundreds of soldiers and policemen were deployed to pull down the market and pummel protesting traders. By his action, Okorocha demolished the honest means of livelihood of these hapless people in the name of a dubious urban renewal project.
A 10-year-old boy, Somtochukwu Igboanusi, died during this attack on harmless civilians. This is certainly a crime against humanity. People in positions of authority must not be displaying shameless impunity as Okorocha does. He demonstrated a high disdain for the rule of law and the lives of his people. This governor has suddenly forgotten that political power is ephemeral.
The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria was on point when it described the Okorocha administration as “dictatorial and lawless.” It also demanded that the governor and his lackeys be prosecuted for crime against humanity. HURIWA said: “Those who occupy government positions and believe that they will be there forever are deluding themselves. The bloodshed that happened in Owerri will not go unpunished, particularly for the perpetrators and those who deployed the heavily armed soldiers.”
For the OurMumuDonDo group, the demolition of the market “depicts the stark decrepitude in which our nation has been plunged into, and the patent impunity being displayed by people in positions of power.”
Many regard Okorocha’s so-called urban renewal project, which resulted in the demolition of the market as a charade. The spokesman of the Concerned Imo Indigenes in Abuja, Sam Obaji, puts it fittingly: “What we are witnessing in Imo today is a self-interested and uncoordinated urban renewal project that consists largely of the demolition of private properties and transfer of recovered plots of lands to cronies for private development. We believe that a responsive and responsible government would undertake a process that minimises hardship and disruption to the economic and social life of the citizens. We are very angry at this uncivilised, reckless, thoughtless and disrespectful model of governance. Henceforth, we will fight the governor to stop him from further destroying life and livelihood in Imo state.”
The demolition of Eke-ukwu Owerri Market aside, Imo people have been living under a fascist regime in the last six years. Okorocha’s authoritarian administration is characterised by dictatorial power. Many will not forget in a hurry the senseless demolition of buildings in Owerri last year. It is also pertinent to note that Imo, under Okorocha, has become a failed state, with its government unable to meet its basic responsibilities to the citizens. Facilities in the health, education and other sectors have collapsed. In Okorocha’s Imo, civil servants have been going without salaries for years. Retirees are also wallowing in poverty, due to enormous unpaid annuities. All these have resulted in so much poverty in this largely “civil servant” state.
The limited resources of this state are being squandered amid poverty. A good example is when this governor suddenly crops up with an aircraft, said to have been acquired with the funds of the suffering masses of the state. He then went about celebrating, with the impression that this was capable of turning around the fortunes of the state. The impact of Imo Air is yet to be felt. The amount paid for the “tokunbo” aircraft is also still a closely guarded secret. I really can’t understand the sense in this investment. The whole arrangement is looking suspicious. For example, the state has no commercial airline licence. As a result, the aircraft was transferred to Dana Air, to run its Lagos-Owerri and Abuja-Owerri routes. It is unfair to invest the limited funds of the traumatised people of Imo State in this manner. Obviously, the struggling masses of Imo State have no business with air travel. So sad that funds that ought to have gone into improving the lives of the masses of the state have been diverted to the acquisition of an aircraft.
Okorocha should go back and read the “love letter” written to him last year by former Governor Ikedi Ohakim. The letter encompasses all that is required to put a bit of smile on the faces Imo people. The section where Ohakim criticised the senseless demolition of buildings in Owerri is germane. Just as Ohakim noted, the hapless people affected “were neither given adequate notice nor was compensation discussed/paid before bulldozers were sent to destroy their properties.”
Ohakim added: “There is so much unruliness in the state with government officials showing the lead. Your Excellency, there is a built-up anger over the way the people are being displaced from their business locations, more so as this reminds them of the indiscriminate revocation and reallocation of lands in Owerri.
“You and I know that given the current economic situation in the country, this is the most inappropriate time to destroy the houses of people or destroy structures that house their means of livelihood without adequate alternative arrangement. Agreed, multiple lane roads are desirable but it should not be achieved by suddenly throwing hapless citizens into homelessness, joblessness and excruciating economic pains from which they may never recover.”
Okorocha should reflect deeply on the messages of Ohakim and other good people of Imo State, implement the suggestions and take pragmatic steps to ameliorate the suffering of the people of this state. As a first logical step, he should auction this unnecessary aircraft and use the money to reduce the agony of civil servants.
Rampaging Governor Yahaya Bello
Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State is now on the list of governors paying half salaries. With a backlog running into several months, this governor decided to pay half salaries for August to enable civil servants celebrate Sallah. It is heart-warming that the Kogi chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress led by Onu Edoka has refused to allow this impunity to go unchallenged. Edoka said: “Workers in this state have suffered total hardship since the coming of the present administration. Over 70 per cent of workers cleared during the staff audit are yet to get salaries of between 17 and 20 months. Despite the huge money collected by the state government in the last 20 months, it is a pity that workers are not being paid by Bello.” He also wants Bello to explain to the people of the state how he spent N38 billion, comprising bailout funds, the first tranche of Paris Club refund (N12 billion) and the second tranche (N6 billion). If the state’s wage bill is N2.9billion, as confirmed by this governor, then N38 billion is more than enough to pay the salaries of these workers for 12 months. This is aside Kogi’s monthly allocation from the federation account. Bello has a lot of questions to answer about Kogi’s finances. The NLC must continue to pile pressure on him until he confesses.
Abducted University of Maiduguri Staff
I sincerely hope that the Buhari administration and its security agencies have not forgotten that three staff of the University of Maiduguri are still in the dungeon of Boko Haram. They were the ones spared and abducted after the terrorists killed 69 oil explorers and their security details in Borno State on July 25. Today is day number 47 of Dr. Solomon Yusuf, Mr. Haruna Dashe and Dr. Yusuf Ibrahim in the chambers of the terrorists. Tears have been flowing uncontrollably from their family members since the abduction. For these family members, it is even more painful that the said moves to rescue their loved ones are not yielding result. For how long shall these people and their families continue to wallow in pain? Our gallant soldiers must raise their games and pull out these men from the cells of Boko Haram.
Playing Politics with Recession Exit
It is good that this country is technically out of recession, but the celebration by some members of the Buhari band amounts to insulting the sensibilities of Nigerians. There is no correlation between exiting recession and the economic realities on the ground. These entertainers know very well that the exit from recession would not automatically translate to better life for Nigerians. Under Buhari, this economy has suffered a massive compression. Inflation is creating tension in homes across the nation, while over 4.5 million Nigerians have lost their jobs in the last two years. These have resulted in dwindling consumer demand and sliding industrial capacity utilisation. The 2015/2016 forex crisis and the delay by Buhari to remove fuel subsidy amid falling forex revenue decapitated our industries and led to massive retrenchment. Our marginal 0.55 per cent GDP growth in the second quarter of 2017 is a testimony that it would take this country several years to exit the economic crisis created by this government.
The NBS stated in its latest report that food price pressure continued into July as all major food sub-indexes increased, with food inflation in the country rising by 20.28 per cent year-on-year in July. According to the NBS, this represents the highest year-on-year increase in food prices since 2009. We need to persistently remind Buhari that two years after his election, inflation rate rose from about nine per cent to about 17 per cent and unemployment from 7.5 per cent to 14 per cent. Poverty is growing while youth agitation is increasing. Former CBN Governor, Charles Soludo noted that in two years of Buhari, “business confidence remains very low at -29 while competitive index has remained low. Our sovereign credit ratings have worsened, while workers’ wages have dramatically shrunk with high inflationary pressure. What people don’t understand is that when workers are owed and are paid in arrears as done in many states, you have effectively reduced their nominal wages for the year. Paradoxically, Nigeria’s rank on the corruption index remains unchanged at 136th position, while its ranking on the Fragile States Index has worsened.” This is food for thought for us today.
A Word for Abiola Ajimobi
I thought Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State would spend his remaining 19 months working to pull the people of the state out of the poverty his six-year administration plunged them. The reverse has been the case, with this governor dipping into one charade or another. His latest jest is spending millions of Naira to enthrone several comical first-class traditional rulers (Obas) in Ibadanland. This action, obviously aimed at humiliating the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji, has brought so much opprobrium on Ajimobi in particular and the state in general. The governor’s decision to snub the court case challenging the enthronement is sickening. It was nice seeing 12 of the Ibadan high Chiefs turning down the dubious gift. My dear Ajimobi, my plea to you today is to learn to rise above pettiness, end actions aimed at destroying the history and tradition of Ibadanland and focus on improving a state whose progress you single-handedly retarded.
At present, Oyo State is also in a mess over months of unpaid salaries to civil servants, who have been turned into beggars. Ajimobi is accused of squandering the bailout fund meant to clear outstanding salaries. The state’s NLC Chairman, Waheed Olojede said unpaid salaries had pauperised the workers, adding that their productivity, diligence and absolute commitment had also been affected. It is a shame that Ajimobi reneged on previous agreement on how to settle the salaries. Oyo State has no business being in a mess if well managed. But this has not been the case. Ajimobi is only interested in frivolities.